My wife likes dogs. Probably heavily influenced by her childhood, which was somewhat dominated by two Golden Retrievers which whom she shared the house. No surprise then that for my birthday treat we went to the cinema to see a film about a dog. At least, that’s what the title and the trailer would like you think. It turned out to be less about the dog and more about the relationships that developed around the dog.
For those who haven’t yet seen Marley and Me, feel free to either keep on reading or read something else, depending on whether you’re the type to get offended by spoilers. I’m still not sure what spoilers I’ll actually use here, we’ll see during the course of writing, but needless to say it’s about the contents of the film, and I may well end up mentioning some important plot devices. Just so you’re warned.
I’m more of a cat person, incidentally. Again, no doubt influenced by my childhood, which was shared with a black cat called Lucy, who was half-wild and who never quite got the hang of keeping her claws to herself. I’ve never really had much affinity with dogs, despite my wife’s efforts so far. In fact, whereas most wives will ask for a baby and settle for a dog, I think I’d prefer the baby. So I wasn’t entirely sure that this film would be for me, I didn’t really see myself as the target audience.
The opening few scenes were very clearly centred around the dog, Marley, who is an unruly and somewhat uncontrollable Labrador. Adorable, but not the best pet to have if you have anything even remotely valuable in the house. However, as the film went on it became more and more apparent that the story was more about the people than the dog. The relationship between the two main characters was a joy to watch as it developed, always underlined and emphasised by the presence of their Lab causing mayhem wherever possible. What made the relationship so believeable was actually the counterplay of good and bad days, with nothing cut out. There were arguments, there were lovey-dovey sickly sweet encounters, there was harsh and deep sorrow, there was immeasurable joy.
This wasn’t a story about someone else, this was a story about real people like you and me. Unlike most films that Hollywood churns out, this connected to its audience in a whole new realm of believability. It wasn’t a fairytail ending, it wasn’t romanticised, it was just true. Yes, the film is based on a true story, but in contrast to many other film adaptations this kept its finger very closely on the pulse of reality, keeping in scenes that other directors would have cut, scenes that don’t really have much point as far as the plot goes, but which reflect the fact that life isn’t a directed plot. Life doesn’t take place in a series of distinct scenes, there are things that happen in life that bear no relation to the ultimate direction of our purpose, and those silly little additions in the film were what made it more real. It wasn’t telling a story, it was showing us a life.
I think it’s one of the few films I’ve seen that portray a lifestyle and an approach to relationship that I’d actually want to emulate. Their lives weren’t perfect, far from it, and it was filled with normal everyday difficulties, but their love kept them together in a way that wasn’t forced or uncomfortable, but genuine and flawed. That’s how relationships should be – not perfect, just genuine. Being able to say sorry is one of the gifts of true relationship, contrary to one particular saying you may have heard. And it’s my hope that Marley and Me is an inspiration to couples everywhere, that actually relationships can last a lifetime, maybe not the way you expected, but certainly in a way that’s sustainable.
So where does the dog come in? Like a child, Marley underscored pretty much every aspect of their life, both in the good times and the bad, and became a genuine member of the family. Even a very bad dog, a dog as bad as Marley, can be a very good dog to the family it comes to love.
My wife and I will be getting a dog. And a cat. And hopefully a couple of children too, God willing. Not because those things will complete our relationship (they certainly won’t make it easier), but as a compliment to it. And if we end up with none of them, or more besides, we’ll always have each other. That, I guess, is what I love about Marley and Me – two people, irrespective of what they have or don’t have, will always have each other.